2030 seems like the distant future, but it is only 12 years from the writing of this article—just as close in time as 2006. That year is going to mark a milestone in US demographics: for the first time, people 65 and older will outnumber those 18 and younger. Indeed, 1 out of every 5 Americans will be at or past retirement age.
Those numbers, from the US Census Bureau, are fairly staggering, and represent some fairly enormous social changes over the last few generations. Better medical care, improved awareness of what is and is not healthy, and declining birth rates mean that America is aging (though slower than Europe or parts of Asia).
When you dive a little deeper, the numbers might really surprise you:
- By 2035, there will be 78 million people 65 and over
- By 2060, that number will jump to 98 million
- By 2060, people 65 and older will make up 24% of the population
None of this is bad, of course. For one thing, it means people are living longer and have more time to explore and learn and live their lives to the fullest. And this isn’t the demographic disaster or the “end of America” more hysterical media types like to imagine it is; the rate of immigration will keep the US population growing at replacement rates, with the happy outcome of making this country much more diverse.
That being said, of course, an aging population brings with it its own set of social and economic challenges. One will be social benefits, like paying for Medicare and Social Security. That’s a political issue, of course; there is more than enough money in the GDP to handle this. But a larger problem looms in the medical and health care needs of an aging population.
This happy explosion in the older adult population means that there is a growing need for doctors, nurses, and professional caregivers, especially in home-based care. Indeed, it is one of the most important areas of economic growth.
The population is changing. But what isn’t changing is the need for committed, compassionate, and professional care that helps older adults live their best lives. Understanding that market can help younger people find jobs that will be challenging, interesting, fulfilling, and filled with love.
“The Future of Employment”
It’s not just us saying this. Writing at Quartz, Dan Kopf calls jobs involving personal care of older adults the “future of employment.” Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as he points out, says that this will be the fastest area of employment growth from 2016-2026 (and, one can surmise, beyond that, but the latest numbers are through these years).
To back that up, Kopf gave some more impressive numbers. Over the next decade:
- Personal care jobs will grow by 750,000
- Home health aides will grow by 425,000
- These jobs will grow from 2.3 to 3.4 million jobs overall
- These jobs will grow 37% and 37%, respectively, the 3rd and 4th fastest growing jobs in the US
(Even those last percentages are misleading, since the 1st and 2nd place jobs will only add 17,000 workers.)
So it is pretty clear that the aging population is going to have a direct impact on what work will be like in the future.
This work isn’t all uniform, of course. There are many different jobs, including working at hospitals and at nursing care facilities. But more and more, the bulk of jobs is moving toward senior home health care as the result of cultural and sociological shifts.
Senior Home Health Care Leads the Way
In the last few decades, we’ve seen a cultural move toward aging in place. While many nursing care facilities are amazing places staffed with wonderful, dedicated people who work hard to build a true community, more and more people want to stay in their homes or with a loved one in place of starting over.
That’s not easy, of course. While there are programs to help, such as home-delivered meals for older adults in California, it can be challenging to age in place. It can be hard to care for yourself, and it can be hard to care for a loved one, especially if you have a full-time job and family of your own.
That’s where a caregiver comes in. Whether you have a full-time caregiver who might specialize in your specific health needs or a part-time one who can come in and handle things like medicine or bandages or basic chores like cooking, caregivers are an enormous help. They are companions and nurses, friends and chefs, someone to talk to and someone to laugh with and someone to lean on. They are people who help older adults age in place, with the comfort and dignity they deserve.
And they’re needed.
2015 was the first year that home health care in America surpassed nursing care in terms of money spent. That will grow, of course, as the population ages and cultural changes become embedded. And right now, there seems to be a large, perhaps dangerous, shortage of home health care workers.
There are reasons for this. For one, not everyone knows that this is a growing industry. And there are some unfair structural reasons. For one thing, the average pay is low, often under $15 an hour depending on the state. Few jobs come with benefits, and few have consistent hours. That makes people reluctant to take a job.
But that could change. Indeed, the shortage of workers, combined with the growing need, will demand that changes. When labor becomes necessary, wages and benefits go up. It seems almost inevitable.
That’s why we think that not only is this job growing in importance, but as more people realize its importance and the shortage of workers become more apparent, this is a position that will be able to provide a stable and steady income for anyone with the dedication and the heart to take it.
Aging at Home in the Bay Area
The need for senior home health care jobs is of particular importance to us here in the Bay Area. In fact, San Francisco and nearby Sacramento are both in the top 10 for employment growth in in-home senior care (#1 is Nashville, and there are probably some good country songs to be written about that).
This region has been leading the way for cultural changes in how we age. At Institute on Aging, we fully believe that growing older doesn’t mean life is over, or that you have to settle down and stop exploring. We know that you are still you, at any age, and have the same rights and expectations for a decent life as any age group.
To do so, though, there is a need for home health care. That need is growing, and the profession is changing and getting the esteem and respect it has always deserved. Ideally, wages and other benefits will grow accordingly.
That’s not just a matter of basic economics. It’s not just supply and demand. It comes from recognizing what is important as the nation changes and recognizing what we need to make it happen. That’s why senior home health care jobs are the fastest growing in the country: we’re catching up to what makes life truly important.
At Institute on Aging, our programs and services help older adults, their families, and caregivers explore aging together, through good times and bad, as an adventure and a journey. Contact us today to learn more.